Quick summary - I set a challenging target of 3 hours 10 minutes. I didn’t quite get it. I was however quicker than I’d hoped to be a few weeks ago. I’m very happy with my result.
Now the longer version…
A few weeks ago I blogged about my recent run training and how I’d got an entry to this years London Marathon through a ballot at our running club. Since January I’ve been slowly increasing my run mileage and trying to get in the best shape I can to run a good 26.2 miles in London. I last ran in London in 2013 and loved it, and was hoping that 10 years later the experience would be similar.
A few weeks ago I wrote:
If I could run 7 minute 25 seconds per mile for 26.2 miles this would get me to the finish in 3:14:27. Maybe this is a plan to aim for and if I feel good in the latter miles I could increase the pace slightly. Right now as I write this (13 March) this sounds like a reasonable plan and one I feel is just about achievable based on my current training.
The aim here is to try and finish in under 3 hours 15 minutes. This is what’s known as a London “Good for Age” time (for men aged 50-54), which means that you have a chance of an automatic entry into next years race as opposed to running for a charity or entering the mass ballot. It doesn’t guarantee a place but the quicker you can be ahead of this time the better.
Meeting the qualifying time for your age category does not guarantee entry into the event, but simply the opportunity to submit an application. The maximum number of GFA places is 6,000 (3,000 men and 3,000 women). Places will be allocated on a ‘fastest first’ basis comparative to your age and the qualifying time.
So… my base target is to get under 3 hours 15 minutes. That was my plan and I felt that things were looking good.
Then, on the evening of 1st April I had some foot pain. I didn’t run for a few days (missing a long run) and then ran gently on the Friday and Saturday - which went OK and then did a (make-or-break) long run on the Sunday. This is what I wrote on Strava on 9th April (three weeks out from London Marathon).
I’ve no idea what’s going on with my left foot but after a 17 mile run I did on 9th April I followed it up with a 12 mile long run a week later (in full race day gear - vest/shorts and a 10am start following a 5am wake up). It was all about getting used to what would happen on race day. I was looking good that I’d be able to make the start line in two weeks time.
My ideal race splits (for five mile intervals and half-way)
In the days leading up to the race I decided to go hard or go bust - I’d like to aim for 3 hours 10 minutes. This was an ambitious target and I had no idea if it would be achievable. I also said to myself if I was on target for this time in the latter parts of the race I’d like to try and push harder to see about getting close to my marathon personal best time of 3:09:09 from 2012. I also put it out there that this was an ambitious target and I was prepared to fail. I wanted to run the best I could so gave myself a target that wasn’t easy. This would require some serious effort and concentration - the marathon is something else, and from 20 miles onwards the real race begins.
Over the years I’ve run 16 marathons (11 Ironman marathons, 5 standalone) so I know what’s ahead of me. This ain’t my first rodeo!
Now it was time to push myself.
Off to East Croydon train station
I had a few good nights sleep in the run up to the race apart from Saturday night when it was terrible - that’s kind of to be expected so I didn’t mind. The alarm was set for 5am but we were awake before that. Coffee, breakfast (porridge) at about 5:20am and another coffee and we were off in the car to East Croydon.
Once there we got on the 7:26 train to London Bridge. I then got a train to Blackheath for the start and Sharon headed off on foot to Tower Bridge.
My train carriage to Blackheath was practically empty - it was very pleasant (note: always get near the front of the train as that’s where the exit is at Blackheath station). I got there at 8am (two hours before my start) and gently strolled up towards the starting area.
The walk to the starting areas on Blackheath
At about 8:15am I sat down on a bench by a pond outside of my start area (yellow start) and had my second breakfast - half a tin of rice pudding.
The start area for the red and yellow start area ‘waves’
Danny and myself
I then headed to the yellow start area - bumped into my old friend Danny (with a London Marathon personal best of just under 2 hours 40) who was volunteering and then had a little rest on the grass.
I posted the following message on the Bognor Regis Tone Zone runners Facebook page about 90 minutes before the start of the race:
I just wanted to say in advance (my start wave is from 10:04am) thank you very much to the club (and my good luck in the marathon ballot) for giving me the opportunity to head back to the London Marathon. I’ve been fortunate enough to have raced it previously (last time was in 2013) and I’ve always loved it - so having an opportunity to go back is really exciting. Having a club place means I want to give it my all for the club and this has given me the motivation (and accountability) to train better since the start of the year. I’ve had a really consistent block of training (not big miles, that’s for sure - averaging 26 miles per week since the start of this year) and I’m ready to give it my best. I have an optimistic target time for today (3 hours 10) and I’m prepared to work really hard for it and also to fail (which I hope I don’t). If you’re on the course and see me (you’ll see my orange visor first) then give us a shout and I’ll try my best to do the same back. Thanks for the opportunity and I hope to have a medal around my neck in a few hours time which I’ll bring along to the group photo on Tuesday evening at West Park (where I will not be running!!). Good luck to all the other Tone Zone runners racing today and to those that are watching/supporting in person or remotely. It means a great deal.
It was then toilet time.
The queues were building and I waited about 10 minutes. As soon as I came out the queues were huge so I walked straight to the back and joined them again - as I’d probably want to go again by the time I got back to the front.
The toilet queues
It took me just over 30 minutes to get to the front of the queue! Wow.
At this point it started to spit a bit with rain and it was nearly 9:40am. I sorted my post race bag out, turned my phone off and stuck it in the bag, handed it in (it’s then put on a large lorry which then gets taken to the finish) and then went for a little jog to warm up.
It was hilarious, there was a group of about 30 people (including myself) who were jogging/warming-up in a large oval shape which was probably about 200m around - all jogging in this large oval shape. It was just like the parade ring before a horse race!
After a couple of minutes I headed to my start area for wave 2 (which was the wave I was allocated based on my predicted finishing time when I entered the race). We waited and watched wave 1 head to the start and at 10am prompt they were off to a round of applause. A few minutes later we were led towards the start and then we were off - I set off just after 10:05am.
And we’re off
I had a plan to run at 7:15 minutes per mile (3 hours 10 target time). I was going to stick to this as best as possible and see what happens. I know that GPS watches aren’t 100% accurate (and mine for sure wouldn’t cope with running around the huge buildings in Canary Wharf) and there’s no way you’d be able to run the perfect racing line and register 26.2 miles.
Because the mile markers on the course are accurately positioned I added a ‘data screen’ on my phone (Peter’s Race Pacer) that I could use to manually mark splits at every official (and accurate) mile marker and it would recalculate my splits and average pace based on that - and not on the GPS distance reported by my watch. After practicing with it a few times in the past week this was a superb aid and would tell me at every mile if I was ahead or behind my intended pace and by what amount. In the early miles I was up to about 15-20 seconds ahead of pace. I was happy with this as I felt good (you always do in the early miles) and that if I wanted a chance of a 3:09 finish this was acceptable for an even split between the both halves of the race.
Soon after the start there was a priest (or a man dressed as priest) flicking (holy or just rain) water over the runners. This exact thing happened in 2013 as well at around the same spot! A mile or so later I saw another man at the side of the road reading out loud from the Bible. Maybe it’s something about this part of south-east London that’s particularly religious…
The rain had for the most part held off for the first mile or two and then it started getting heavier. The weather wasn’t cold (I didn’t wear gloves or arm warmers) but the rain really did start to make an appearance. In fact it poured with rain until about 8.5 miles. There were some big puddles by the side of the road and I really didn’t fancy trench-foot so early in the race so I tried my best to avoid them. With the number of runners around me it was impossible not to get splashed (as well as being rained on from above) so I did get very wet. You just have to deal with this and hope it isn’t an issue later on. Thankfully it wasn’t. On the plus side I didn’t have to worry about overheating. The temperature was lovely and cool and not once during the race did I feel cold.
I remember seeing a sign held up by a supporter at the side of the road that said “Due to inflation you will be running 27 miles” which made me chuckle.
The first few miles were uneventful (which is a good thing). The support even in the rain was superb and there were people along the entire route. Lots of children at the edge of the road looking for high-fives etc. When I last ran here in 2013 I wasn’t running for a fast time (for me) as I was doing an Ironman four weeks later so I treated that as a very long training run. I loved it. I was fighting fit - I high-fived, waved my arms - I had an amazing experience.
Having fun in 2013
This year I was in a different place - I had a target in mind (3:10) and I wasn’t going to expend energy waving and cheering the supporters. Oh I took their energy in and the support was superb but I probably looked like a miserable focused runner who couldn’t care less - this was very far from the truth. A book I’ve recently been reading said…
Decide if you’re running for fun or racing for peak performance. Don’t waste energy waving and smiling at the spectators if you want ro run your best. Look straight ahead, focus on a narrow strip of road, or the opponent ahead. You’re not sight-seeing if you’re going for a good race result.
I did see a couple of runners trip over which wasn’t good - I guess they clipped ankles or something. They got themselves up and continued on their way and all seemed good. You really needed to concentrate all the time whilst running - whether it was puddles, people suddenly changing direction at water stations or runners suddenly stopping to walk (this happens a bit during the final few miles)
The sound systems (whether it was drumming ensembles, jazz bands, steel drums, huge loudspeaker systems and anything in-between) were awesome and the 30 seconds or so that you hear them just take your mind away from what your legs are doing for a moment.
Nutrition wise I had an energy gel about 30 minutes before the start and then again at 30 minute intervals. My last gel was at 2 hours 30 minutes. They were a combination of High5 gels and caffeinated cola gels that I bought on a good deal from wiggle.co.uk. I have a pretty cast-iron stomach based on years of Ironman experience so I can deal with pretty much anything and everything. All of these were washed down with water and the occasional sip of sports drink at the Lucozade sport drink points on course. During long training runs I’ve carried a bottle of water/electrolyte drink with me and taken regular sips. From around 18 miles I believe I then hung onto the little water bottles and just took regular sips whilst running.
As I’ll be running a little over 26.2 miles according to my GPS (I’m going to be running further as I won’t be following the ‘racing line’ throughout) I turned off any auto-lap functionality on my watch and went by the mile markers on course. There was spray paint on the road beside each one and I trust they are accurate on this course. This would give me accurate mile splits and my watch would recalculate based on that rather than GPS distance. This was a great benefit.
Running around Cutty Sark in the rain
Cutty Sark at around 10k (about 6.5 miles) was noisy as expected but Tower Bridge (12.5 miles) is just on another level - you turn right from a fairly unassuming street and there’s the bridge right in front of you. I know this part of the course very well from running it before and I also used to work just around the corner but it is such an experience to run across it on marathon day. The crowds were deafening and there’s runners reaching for their mobile phones to take photos and soak up the atmosphere.
I knew that Sharon would be near the far end of the bridge so kept an eye out for her and she gave me a huge cheer as I ran past. I said “I’m doing OK” as I went by. As we turned off of the bridge I had a gel. This was my 1 hour 30 minutes feed!
Having an energy gel at about 12.75 miles
Shortly after Tower Bridge you get to the half way point - my time was 1:34:46. Double this up and I’m on for 3:09:32. This was spot on for my A+ target of getting close to my marathon person best of 3:09:09. Only time would tell if my body could deliver the goods!
I certainly didn’t feel fresh at this point but I was managing it. The pacing was OK but it wasn’t easy - which I expected.
Marsh Wall in Canary Wharf - around mile 19
A few miles later we head into Canary Wharf. I love the scenery of London and how it changes - from residential, to tunnels, to famous landmarks and here with super tall skyscrapers. The sound just echoes around this part of the course and it’s quite exciting. Your GPS goes crazy in this section but this wasn’t really a problem as I’m working off the mile markers today.
This is how my GPS tracked me around the high rise buildings of Canary Wharf
It was around here that my pace felt like it was getting to be tough. I had just done a couple of miles at 7:27 and 7:29 minutes per mile (the target pace was 7:15) and my heart rate just jumped into the 170s. I was starting to fall behind on a 3:10 finishing time at this point.
Around mile 19 - probably the only time I smiled during the race
Eight miles to go. I can do this. I’m strong. Just get on with it.
I decided to push on and my mile from mile 18 to 19 was 7:11. But I just couldn’t keep this up. I then dropped back to 7:22. My legs just felt tired and heavy. This is no surprise - a marathon is a really long way after all. About ten minutes later (2 hours 30 in) I had another gel - hopefully this would help.
Mile 22-23 I dropped to 7:31. The road seemed pretty busy here and I actually think most people were starting to slow down. I didn’t feel like I was being overtaken by many people. I actually feel like I held my own position pretty well - it was just slow.
Somewhere on Embankment
Somewhere around here I caught up with London Marathon legend Chris Finill. Chris is one of the London Ever-present runners - he entered the first London Marathon in 1981 at the age of 22 (finishing in 2:32:55) and has run it every year since. Yes, every year. He’s now run the London Marathon 43 times. There’s only seven people who’ve run every London Marathon (a couple of them are doing ‘virtual’ London Marathons now). It’s the club you cannot enter and can only leave. I was hoping to see Mike Peace (from our old running club) who’s also an Ever Present runner but our paths did not cross today. It was good to see Chris though and cheer him on en-route. It was then back to my serious game face!
Things didn’t get any better. I did somehow get in a mile of 7:17 after that but I think some of that was due to going slightly downhill into the Blackfriars Underpass. This is the final part of the race where you get some peace and quiet other than at 26 miles when you start to turn into the finishing straight.
Once you come out the other side it’s just endless cheering to the 26 miles marker (which says “385 yards to go”). The crowds along the Victoria Embankment are just immense. It was a bit like Tower Bridge but just kept going and going for mile after mile.
I knew to keep a lookout at around 24.5 miles for Sharon and some of the gang from our running club (Bognor Regis Tone Zone runners) and this was actually a good way to pass the time - concentrating on the people cheering at the side of the road (it’s all barriered off for the final few miles). I saw Sharon and the others and gave them a bit of a thumbs-down as it wasn’t quite going to plan.
I was still on for a sub 3:15 time. That was my original target a couple of weeks ago but I wanted to give it my all today and aim for 3:10 or even 3:09. I was just paying the price for it right now.
A little further up the road I heard my name shouted and it was my dad - he said he was hoping to be on the course near to Sharon and he was there cheering me on. Other than the Bognor 10k race a few times and a relay sprint triathlon that he saw me at in 2007 (yes, 16 years ago) I don’t believe he’s been to any other races I’ve take part in. It was good to see him. I only heard him when he shouted “David, David, it’s Daddy!”
You’re then heading towards Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. At this point I heard a shout from my right (Julia) and then just after from the left side of the road (Rachel and Suzan). With all the crowd noise around it was great to pick up on my name and be able to respond.
I’ve occasionally thought about having my name printed on my vest so I’d get loads of personalised shouts but never actually done it. Having not run a big city marathon in ten years, today was a reminder why I’m really glad I don’t do that. I heard so many shouts for other people who did have their names on their vests which I hope they appreciated - but whilst I was running if I heard my name it was either because there was someone near to me with “David” printed on their vest or it was a personal shout for me - which I think pretty much every time I noticed. I saw the following people who shouted my name and it was such a boost…
- Sharon (mile 12.5)
- Glen P from Tone Zone (mile 13)
- Rodney from Bushy parkrun (around mile 15.5)
- Sharon, Kirstee, Allen, Keith and a few others from Tone Zone (mile 24.5)
- My Dad (mile 25)
- Julia S from parkrun/Thames Turbo (mile 25-ish)
- Suzan B and Rachel J from Bushy parkrun (mile 25-ish)
If anyone else saw me and I didn’t respond then sorry!
As I turned at Big Ben for the run along Birdcage Walk towards Buckingham Palace someone came past me and something like “Dig deep, you’ve got this” to which I tried to respond. That lasted about 15 seconds! I ploughed on. I tried as hard as my legs could take me.
Great George Street - look how much fun I’m having!
We then hit the 26 mile mark (that mile was covered in 7:52 (my slowest mile of the race) and my heart rate averaged 171bpm for that mile - for a little perspective, at Bognor Regis parkrun at the start of the month I ran a mile in around 6 minutes 25 with a lower heart rate). Things just get harder and harder as the marathon goes on. In the early miles of today’s race my heart rate was in the low-mid 150’s for a pace of 7:15 per mile. I’m working much harder for a much slower pace. That’s just how it is when you’re getting tired. You just need to control this somehow.
At 26 miles my watch said 3:10:28. You then slowly turn into the finishing straight. I could have just jogged this in as I was safely under my original target of 3:15 but I gave it one final push. My pace got back to 7:18 per mile for the final minute and a half or so. Every second could count here as I want to get as far under 3 hours 15 as possible in the hope of getting a Good for Age place in 2024.
The turn into the finishing straight
The turn into the finishing straight
The turn into the finishing straight
I crossed the finish line in 3 hours 12 minutes and 3 seconds. That’ll do nicely. My second half was much slower (2 minutes 31 seconds) than my first half which isn’t ideal - it should be around the same or indeed quicker for a ‘negative split.’ I went out trying to break 3:10 and in a perfect world I’d have run 3:09. I wasn’t sure if that was achievable so just hoped that based on my training that would be possible. It wasn’t today - but I’m learning all the time. I’m happy with that.
About to cross the finish line - still focused
I was 368th in my age category (male age 50-54) and finished 4,745th overall! Yup, the London Marathon is very fast at the pointy end - and having nearly 5000 people ahead of me means I’m nowhere near that pointy end. There were 48,628 official finishers - so I was just inside the top 10%.
My best time at London was in 2012 where I ran 3 hours 9 minutes and 9 seconds. I finished 1,958th overall that day and was 1,009th in my age category (male 18-39).
So… although I’m a little slower (and 11 years older!) I was much better in my age category. For those who know about age grading percentages, my 2012 race was 66.4% and today I was 71.4%. I’m really pleased to be over 70% age grading over a marathon. On top of that I was wearing ‘regular’ running shoes with no “carbon super shoes” to be seen (although I may need to think about them at some point!)
My training over the recent months hasn’t been overly run focused (I seem to be a bit fragile for high mileage) and I’ve averaged around 26 miles running each week so far this year. This is really good for me. I have spent 70 hours cycling on my trainer (using Zwift) which is over four hours a week so I’ve been getting in some good exercise in. My weight made it down to just over 12 stone 6 pounds which is approximately 79kg. This is the same weight as when I ran London in 2013 (in 2012 I was just a pound or two heavier). Being light (this is light for someone who’s nearly 6 foot 4 tall) makes a huge difference and I was so pleased to be at this kind of weight before the start.
I got some good long runs in (although I did miss one planned 20 miler at the start of April) and was pleased to do four 20 mile runs and a couple of 17 milers. My long runs were around 30-45 seconds per mile slower than target race pace.
Post race it was like the walking dead. Everyone was just hobbling around. You collect your medal, get a finishers bag with drinks, a flapjack and a tee-shirt and then you hobble some more to the baggage lorries to collect your post-race bag. I collected mine and got myself changed (with great difficulty) and then slowly headed with my medal round my neck to where Sharon was (about 3/4 a mile away).
The medal collection area (bottom) with bag collection (further up) along The Mall
I went out with an ambitious target and tried to stick to it. My 5km splits (from the timing mats on the course) show pretty reasonable pacing until I slowed between 25k and 30k (15.5-18.6 miles) - this was the Isle of Dogs and back up to and part of Canary Wharf. I picked it up slightly by 35k but then slowed right down (is a 23:28 5k that slow - especially when you’ve got nearly 22 miles of fatigue in your legs?). My final 2.2k were a little quicker - which is probably helped by my finishing straight effort.
Now… looking at the same thing but using my mile splits (taken from the on-course mile markers) you can see how I my pace dropped rapidly from mile 24 but I was able to dig in for the final 0.2 of a mile and manage to run for about 1 minute 40 at the same pace as my first mile. That’ll explain the pained expression on my face in the photos above. Although to be fair I was pulling those faces from about mile 16!
My heart rate slowly increased from an average of 154 in the first mile (which then settled down to 150-152 until mile four) and then slowly drifted higher and higher. I like to capture this information to look at later but during the race it was good to get a feel for the effort my body was going through to maintain a given pace.
After walking (very slowly) to where Sharon and some of the Tone Zone runner supporters were I was exhausted and sat down for a bit - I watched some of the runners come by, ate some food, had a drink, sat down some more and after perhaps after about 45 minutes or so we left to head home.
Runners at 24.5 miles aiming for times around 4 hours 30 minutes
The journey back home was so easy - tube from Temple to Victoria, train to East Croydon and then back in the car. We were back home at about 5:30pm, less than four hours after I finished the race. A hot bath, a rum and coke and dinner awaited. Perfect.
So… what’s next…
Well, my time is good enough to put my name forward for a Good for Age (GFA) entry for 2024. I was 2 minutes 57 seconds quicker than the 3:15 upper limit. I read that people trying to get a GFA for today’s race had to run three and a half minutes quicker than the upper limit (so 3:11:30) which would mean that my time isn’t good enough. Nobody knows yet what is required for the 2024 race. I’d love to run in London again in 2024 and I’ve already entered the mass ballot (you find out in June) and will also apply through the Good for Age system when it opens. I’ll find out about my Good For Age application in October but I fully expect not to make the cut.
Three days on from the race I’ve got the motivation to continue with the running (even though my legs are saying no) and if I get into London for next year then I will put even more focussed efforts into getting a better time. I may even try and follow a structured plan! If I don’t get into London then perhaps I’ll try another spring marathon and aim for a fast time to try and get me on the London start in 2025.
London 2023 - it was painful, it was fun, it was immense. I didn’t smile much but I loved it.